In recent decades Christopher Walken has developed a strange, catty-cornered acting style bordering on camp with its aggressive self-awareness of the central performative aspect of acting. He doesn’t just speak lines, he chews them up and gobs them out in bizarre, rhythmic cadences almost as if English wasn’t his first language and he learned his role phonetically. Walken always seems to be in on an inside joke between himself and the audience—when we watch him, we aren’t watching an actor become a character, we’re watching a character become Christopher Walken. Perhaps this is why he has such success in comedic roles and bizarro cameos—he’s his own punchline.
I mention all of this to explain why I feel Walken was miscast in Robert Edwards’ One More Time, an abrasive drama about a thirtysomething musician named Jude played by Amber Heard who finds herself in an existential crossroads plagued by her overbearing and tumultuous family of music industry professionals. Chief among them is Paul (Walken), an old school crooner like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett who spends his twilight years editing his Wikipedia page, sharing nudie mags and dirty stories with his young grandson, and dreaming of a comeback. He is, in a phrase, a self-absorbed bastard. His neglectful fathering helped fuel Jude’s sense of worthlessness and nihilism, which she frequently expresses via self-destructive sexual behavior: one-night stands with men twice her age, having an affair with her (married) therapist, repeatedly trying to seduce her sister’s husband. The only moments where they have a connection are when they share a piano together.
Though it’s Jude’s story, Paul serves as the film’s fulcrum—the embodiment of all Jude hates about the industry and life as well as everything she craves to become. But whenever Paul opens his mouth we become intensely aware that we’re watching a man who has been immortalized by lines like: “I gotta fever…and the only prescription…is more cowbell!” During one tense argument where Jude confronts him about how his terrible parenting ruined her life, he replies with: “Why…do you bring that up…it’s spilled milk under the bridge…” And yes, the emphasis was all Walken’s. A scene that should have been emotionally wounding became one of the best bits of unintentional comedy I’ve seen all year.
It’s clear that Robert Edwards has a tight artistic vision and the directorial chops to match it. He excels at tightly edited scenes of chaos with multiple people talking over each other. I also appreciate how the film was unafraid to be nasty and remain that way until the end. These are not good or kind people; they’re confused, misguided, and terribly flawed. But it fails to maintain the proper tone for such a story, thanks in large part to Walken.